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Vital Signs

Pages Past

In this section, we highlight tidbits from past issues of the magazine. These messages from yesteryear remind us of the pace of change, as well as of some timeless truths.

From the Summer 1990 issue

Fifteen years ago, Dartmouth Medicine invited Montgomery Brower to write a feature. A 1981 Dartmouth College graduate who'd been a staff writer for People magazine for seven years, he described, at age 31, a change of heart:

"I hesitated when the chief of cardiac surgery at Leningrad's Pavlov Institute of Medicine invited me, on a visit to Russia back in 1986, to observe some of his doctors at work. During my five years as a magazine journalist, I had so far avoided any conspicuous gore, and I was not sure I could stomach the sight of a Soviet citizen laid open by a scalpel. But before I could muster any excuses, I had been masked and gowned and led into the operating room, where one of the surgeons motioned me to step up onto a stool on the floor behind the patient's head.

"I braced myself for a shock, stepped up, looked down, and was instantly awestruck. There before me lay a secret revealed: the heart tossing in its place, the lungs emptying and filling in a steady

It's never too late to consider a career change, even into medicine, DC grad Brower concluded.

rhythm, every part real and alive. . . . For the next half hour, I watched and listened, my fears forgotten. . . . Later, as I left the operating room, I felt a new excitement. 'I wonder,' I found myself thinking, 'if I could be a doctor.' . . .

"As an undergraduate at Dartmouth, I had seen myself as strictly a humanities type. Although I had enjoyed my science courses in high school, I had concluded, after some unhappy experiences with mathematics, that I was constitutionally incapable of grasping quantitative subjects. I vilified most premed students as unimaginative careerists and celebrated my own literary bohemianism, probably in part because I feared the science that I was sure I could never understand, let alone enjoy. . . . The scientist and the humanist within us make rival claims to truth, and in the 20th century neither seems to understand the other. In that epiphanous moment over the operating table in Leningrad, I believe I saw the human heart in both its guises: as a wellspring of feeling and as a wonderwork of biological engineering."

Writing's loss has clearly been medicine's gain. Brower graduated from Cornell Medical College and is now deputy medical director of Massachusetts's Bridgewater State Hospital.

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